This Women’s month, SABRIC, South African Banking Risk Information Centre, as part of its Schemes and Scams Campaign, alerts women to online dating scams.A recent survey shows that over 49 million people in the United States alone have tried online dating. This can be a great way for singles to meet their perfect match, but is also a way for cybercriminals to seek out their victims.
The increased prevalence of romance scams is worrying and very difficult to curb given that the modus operandi exploits the emotions of the victim who believes that they are in a romantic relationship with someone who allegedly cares for them. Such communications are usually confidential and very personal and victims are often too embarrassed to publically admit to being manipulated and ultimately defrauded.
“Even when banks are able to detect that a victim is about to make a payment based on false pretenses, these victims often insist on proceeding with the transaction as they do not accept that they are being defrauded,” says Kalyani Pillay, CEO of SABRIC.
Whilst online dating and romance scams were initially perpetrated by fraudsters who were either operating alone or in relatively small syndicated groups, organised criminals have now entered this arena and the scale and sophistication of these scams has increased significantly in recent times.
These crimes are considered low risk with high reward by the perpetrators and because they do not intend meeting their victims, can be executed from anywhere on the globe. “They target victims, identified mostly through social media platforms, who appear to be affluent”, says Pillay. A typical profile would be a middle aged or elderly widow or divorcee who may seem to have access to large amounts of cash. This information is easily gleaned off a victim’s Facebook or Instagram profile, if the security settings are not strictly applied. Sourcing information from online dating sites is also relatively easy because these victims usually share very freely in the hope of finding a romantic partner. It is important to note that whilst many victims have been female, men have also been duped with romance or online dating scams.
The story line used by the perpetrator is aligned to what the victim would generally be interested in. The persona assumed by the perpetrator is geared to impress the victim and photographs are carefully chosen. Once a long distance relationship is established, requests for financial assistance follow. Reasons given vary from assistance with the costs of a plane ticket to visit the victim, to emergency medical assistance. Victims who are tricked into believing that they are communicating with a genuine friend, then render the assistance to their own detriment. Victims will be exploited for as long as the perpetrator manages to manipulate them. Funds paid are usually withdrawn immediately and once the victim realises what has transpired, there is usually no opportunity to recover funds.
SABRIC urges bank customers to watch out for the following red flags and use the following safe banking tips:
- Unsolicited communications from strangers on Facebook or WhatsApp who want to get to know you better, are best ignored.
- Invitations to befriend you on Facebook or LinkedIn from strangers whose own profiles having very little information should be treated with utmost suspicion.
- Requests for financial assistance from people that you have recently met online should best not be entertained.
- Do not believe everything that is shared with you online and use other means to verify the information first.
- Do not make your bank account details available to third parties that you have not met.
- Do not share details of your financial position with strangers.
- Set the privacy settings on your social media platforms at the strictest possible level to ensure that strangers surfing the internet, cannot access any of your personal details or posts.
- Be careful of how much personal information you share on dating sites and social media platforms. Fraudsters can use this information to target you with a scam.
- Beware of people who have unusual jobs, the most common scams involve people allegedly working in the army, navy, air force, United Nations and other jobs that require travelling.
- Look out for inconsistencies in communications. Syndicates often have a number of people manning their online dating sites so you could possibly be chatting to two or three different people.
- Be wary of people who keep promising to meet you and always cancel at the last minute and don’t give such a person money, to come to visit you.
- Should you arrange a meeting with someone you have met online, ensure that you meet in a public area and possibly with friends.
- Should you suspect that a scammer is targeting you, stop all communications immediately and report it to the online dating service or social media platform.
- If you have been the victim of a romance scam and defrauded in the process, report the matter to the police.
SABRIC recently launched an awareness campaign called #Skelm: Wise Up. Watch Out.
To arrange for interviews with SABRIC CEO, Kalyani Pillay, contact:
Media and communications Manager
Tel: +27 11 847 3134
Cell: 082 070 5349
Notes to Editors:
SABRIC is a NPF company formed by South African banks to support the banking industry in the combating of crime. SABRIC’s clients are South African banks and major CIT companies. Its principle business is to detect, prevent and reduce organised crime in the banking industry through effective public private partnerships. SABRIC co-ordinates inter-bank activities aimed at addressing organised bank related financial and violent crime and acts as a nodal point between the banking industry and others, in respect of issues relating to crime. The creation of public awareness of various bank related crimes and educating the public on how to protect themselves is one of SABRIC’s key focus areas. For more on SABRIC visit www.sabric.co.za